Luis Egidio Meléndez is one of the greatest still-life painters of the eighteenth century. He mainly produced small canvases representing everyday objects, fruits, and vegetables. His most important commission was a series of forty-four still lifes painted for the Prince of Asturias, the future King Charles IV, for the palace at Aranjuez, around 1772.
This still life by Meléndez is exceptional in its format and composition. The canvas is much larger than most works by the artist. The setting of the still life in a luscious landscape is also unusual for him; his compositions are usually set against stark backgrounds. The painting is similar to a series of four (Still life with Watermelons and Apples in a Landscape; Still Life with Pomegranates, Apples, Azaroles, and Grapes in a Landscape; Still Life with a Plate of Grapes, Peaches, Pears and Plums in a Landscape; and Still Life with Cantaloupe, Figs and Apples, Picnic Basket, and Wineskin in a Landscape) which were painted for the Nuevo Cabinete de Historia Natural of the Prince of Asturias (now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid). They were meant to celebrate the fruits of Spanish agriculture. Another still life was probably part of this series and is now in a private collection, on loan to the MMA (see Tomlinson 1997). It is likely that the MMA still life originally had a pendant canvas of the same size, with a landscape.
This spectacular painting depicts many objects that often appear in Meléndez’s still lifes: the lidded copper pot, the basket with a handle, and the bowl. Around them is a naturalistic and sophisticated depiction of fruit, including grapes, pears, peaches, a melon, and two loaves of bread. The presence of a picnic basket justifies the title of The Afternoon Meal (in Spanish, La Merienda). The picture is usually dated to around 1772, but has been recently placed around 1775–80 (Cherry 2009).
The first recorded owner of the painting is the Marqués Gaspar de Remisa in Madrid, who died in 1847. The inscription on the bottom right of the painting, "255.M.de.R.," is an inventory number from his collection.
[Xavier F. Salomon 2011]
Julio Cavestany and Enrique Lafuente, ed. Exposición de floreros y bodegones en la pintura española. Exh. cat., Palacio de la Biblioteca Nacional. [Madrid], , p. 68, no. 84, as from the collection of the Marqués de Remisa, lent by Sra. Vda. de Moret.
Enrique Lafuente Ferrari. "La peinture de bodegones en Espagne." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 13 (1935), pp. 181–82, ill., as in the collection of Mme. de Moret y Remira.
Julio Cavestany in Floreros y bodegones en la pintura española. Exh. cat., Palacio de la Biblioteca Nacional. Madrid, 1936 and 1940, pp. 53, 161, no. 84, colorpl. 44, as "La merienda," lent by Sr. D. Salvador Moret.
Juan de Contreras, Marqués de Lozoya. Historia del arte hispánico. Vol. 4, 1st ed. Barcelona, 1945, p. 518, colorpl. 46, as in a private collection, Madrid.
David Giles Carter. "El Greco to Goya: An Exhibition at Indianapolis and Providence." Connoisseur 153 (May 1963), pp. 55–56, ill., notes that it "recalls the series of pictures of food executed in 1772 for the Palace at Aranjuez" (Prado, Madrid).
David Giles Carter in El Greco to Goya. Exh. cat., John Herron Art Institute. Indianapolis, 1963, unpaginated, no. 50, pl. 50, notes that Meléndez used the same studio props in "Pears and Melon" (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
Eleanor Tufts. "A Stylistic Study of the Paintings of Luis Meléndez." PhD diss., New York University, 1970, vol. 1, pp. 27, 30–31, 38 n. 68, 184–85, no. 62; vol. 2, fig. 56, compares this picutre, with its diagonal patch of landscape, with a group of four still life paintings by Meléndez in the Prado, thought to have been pendants; suggests that our canvas may have been the right member of such a pair, and thus the canvas originally designed to hang at its left had a similar landscape on its right side; notes that our picture is unusual for Meléndez, in that it does not conform to one of the three basic canvas sizes used by him.
Eleanor Tufts. "Luis Meléndez, Still-Life Painter "sans pareil"." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 100 (November 1982), p. 163, no. 81, ill.
Juan J. Luna in Luis Meléndez, bodegonista español del siglo XVIII. Exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado. [Madrid], , pp. 40, 102, ill.
Katharine Baetjer in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1983–1984. New York, 1984, p. 60, ill. (color).
Katharine Baetjer in The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, pp. 109–11, no. 40, ill. (color).
Eleanor Tufts. Luis Meléndez: Eighteenth-Century Master of the Spanish Still Life: With a Catalogue Raisonné. Columbia, Mo., 1985, pp. 102–3, no. 80, pl. 80, suggests a date of about 1771, as this date appears on two still lifes by Meléndez (Prado, Madrid) which also have landscape backgrounds.
Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez. Nature morte espagnole du XVIIe siècle à Goya. Fribourg, Switzerland, 1987, p. 192, fig. 195 (color).
Juan J. Luna. Los alimentos de España en la pintura: Bodegones de Luis Meléndez. [Madrid], 1995, pp. 11–12, 52, 142, ill.
Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez. Pintura española recuperada por el coleccionismo privado. Exh. cat., Hospital de los Venerables. Seville, 1996, p. 164.
Janis Tomlinson in Painting in Spain in the Age of Enlightenment: Goya and His Contemporaries. Ed. Ronda Kasl and Suzanne L. Stratton. Exh. cat., Indianapolis Museum of Art. [Indianapolis], 1997, pp. 268–69, observes that only six of Meléndez's paintings are large-scale compositions featuring outdoor settings, including this picture, four in the Prado, and one in a private collection; believes the Prado and private collection paintings were made for the Prince of Asturias to decorate the Nuevo Cabinete de Historia Natural and thus to glorify the products of Spanish agriculture; in comparison, believes the MMA work was made for a private patron as it does not emphasize produce identified with the Spanish kingdoms.
Sybille Ebert-Schifferer. Still Life: A History. New York, 1998, p. 222, fig. 160.
Gudrun Maurer. Spanish Paintings. Stockholm, 2001, pp. 97, 100 n. 3, discusses it in relation to the "Basket of Wild Strawberries in a Landscape" attributed to Luis Meléndez, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
Peter Cherry in Peter Cherry and Juan J. Luna with the collaboration of Natacha Seseña. Luis Meléndez: Bodegones. Exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado. 2004, p. 216, ill., mentions it in relation to another unusually large still life by the artist in the Várez Fisa collection, Madrid.
Peter Cherry. Luis Meléndez, Still-Life Painter. [Madrid], , pp. 99, 115, 117–18, 120–21, 132, 136, 184–86, 343 n. 165, p. 540, no. 80, ill. p. 460 (color), calls this picture a self-conscious response to the commonly employed landscape/garden setting of Italian still-life paintings of the 17th and early 18th century, works he would have seen during his residence in Rome and Naples between 1749 and 1753; discusses Meléndez's four still lifes in a landscape commissioned by the prince of Asturias in 1771 and notes that it is difficult to say whether his other still lifes in landscape settings, including the present work, precede or follow that group; remarks that the "scale and artistic ambition" of this painting "might imply that this is a late work, although this too remains an hypothesis"; states that the "arrangement of fruits in the left-hand corner of the picture was radically revised; the three pears are all that remain from a composition which originally comprised a branch of peaches, loose peaches and plums" [see Notes]; discusses at length the esthetic decisions Meléndez made in the process of repainting.
Peter Cherry in Luis Meléndez: Master of the Spanish Still Life. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2009, p. 13, ill. (color), dates it 1775–80 in the caption.